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Kuroneko (1968) Review

Kuroneko review 1968

by William on May 16th, 2019 | | , , , ,

Kuroneko (Criterion Collection #584) was directed by Kaneto Shindō (who also directed Onibaba) and stars Rokkô Toura (from Haunted Castle), Nobuko Otowa and Kiwako Taichi.

Beware the haunted women who lurk in the bamboo forest as black cats craving the blood of samurai!

Kuroneko Review

This is a unique, art-house movie about two women assaulted and murdered by Samurai soldiers passing through the woods. They burn down the small house to cover their tracks, and then go on about their business. Add a demonic resurrection to the mix and then the story really takes off.

There is a type of black and white cinematography that makes you feel the comfort and warmth of the glowing beams that light a person, or room, in a way that makes you feel centered and safe. Kuroneko is not one of these examples. This is high contrast photography taken to the extent of absolute blackness, giving the feeling that you cannot ever see what’s going to happen, but you have to just wait for it. And the thing that’s going to happen involves a white-clad ghost woman dropping from the inky-black sky, ready for revenge. She will never let any man reach the safety of the village gates, and with good reason. Using the thick, bamboo forest as a setting is something that is unsettling, and something a lot of Western eyes may not have not seen before. It looks like the space between two worlds where a vengeful, supernatural cat-spirit can slice you to ribbons. 2016’s The Witch also uses this liminal space to evoke the timeless feeling of being in the middle of the woods, and that something might be after you.

1942’s Cat People opened the door for the blackness of the frame as a character, as well as adding an element to the relationship between the supernatural and the feline. Building on Japanese folklore, both of these devices are used expertly in Kuroneko and transcends any premature thoughts of a ghost story involving ancient Samurai. It’s all about the execution that sets this art-house gem apart from most black and white horror films. The kills take a little time to set up, and there is some straight drama included, but there is also an unnerving eroticism that flows from the women that is non-human and mystifying.

The rape-revenge became a storytelling device that only horror movies would address in depth, and one of the first recognized came in 1960 with Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Released almost a decade before Kuroneko, it set up the model for these films, thematically at least. In the 1970’s, American cinema (Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave) went the blood-soaked, terror-filled route only a few years later, but amped up the exploitation and graphic depiction of the attacks on the victims and victimizers. This film leans more toward art-house, mystical violence that doesn’t shock as much as make you feel the terror of being attacked by something in the woods in the blink of an eye. And as with the American versions of this story, no one ends up well by the end.

Worth Watching?

Absolutely. This movie is a great starter for anyone interested in creative photography or mid-century Japanese cinema. Let’s consider this the spiritual grandmother of Ringu or Ju-On: The Grudge. And for rape-revenge films, it’s one of the best along with Ms. 45, Savaged, Revenge and Jennifer’s Body.



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